In the summer of 2007, I began hearing some gentle buzz about a little independent film from Ireland called Once. It was supposed to be a lovely little film that was also a musical. It sounded great to me, so when the film came to one of my favorite theaters in the area (The Heights) I took Becky out to see it. Without having much background information other than positive internet chatter, we didn’t really know what the film was about. As the screen flickered to life, we found ourselves completely immersed in the film. The storyline was that of two musicians looking to change their lives and helping each other do just that. But it was the music that made the film shine.
Glen Hansard is the leading man in the film. He had little acting experience prior to this and was making a good living as the frontman for The Frames. Leading actress, Marketa Irglova, was also an accomplished musician but a novice actor. Together, they produced an amazing chemistry on screen and in their music. The scene in the music store in which Glen’s character teaches Marketa’s one of his songs feels like the cameras were just rolling on a wholly impromptu jam session. In fact, the film had such a small budget that many scenes were actually filmed in public without clearing onlookers and that aesthetic makes the film feel very real. Indeed, through the filming of Once, Glen and Marketa fell in love with each other. Apparently the chemistry they shared on screen was not just playacting.
For me, the part of the film that really resonated with me was the theme of music as a powerful force to bring people together. The characters in the film are drawn together when the girl hears the guy playing music on the street. Their relationship blossoms when they play a song together and they grow even more as they work together to produce an studio recording. It’s the music that builds a foundation for their relationship.
Of course, another element of the film that makes it one of my favorites is the way the filmmakers skip the fluffy cliches of romantic films. In fact, many people weren’t happy with the way the film ended (I won’t spoil it here), but I felt like it was a perfect ending that was grounded in reality. And that made it beautiful.
Becky and I walked out of The Heights Theater practically glowing. We became total street teamers for the film, telling everyone we knew that they had to see it. And we cheered heartily when the song “Falling Slowly” won an Oscar and Glen and Marketa gave humble and genuine acceptance speeches.
Last year, the pair released their second album and announced that they were no longer a romantic couple – just musical collaborators. Art imitates life and sometimes vise versa. I hope their collaboration continues even as their romantic relationship wanes. Their chemistry is undeniable.